In a little more than a month the people who take golf seriously will be in deep study. It will be the Monday before The Masters. And prognosticators and prognostications will blight the landscape.
There will be pretenders everywhere you want to look – phonies who want you to believe they really have an insight on who to draft in your Masters pool, and experts who actually know something relevant but are so close to the game that they will lead with their heart instead of their head with their predictions.
Right now Tiger Woods is a “heart” pick not a “head” pick. He has a bad back and is mired in a bad spate of recent form. He is not the clear favorite to win his fifth Masters. Nor is Phil Mickelson, who also has dealt with back problems in this upside down 2014 calendar season, a clear favorite to win his fourth Masters.
At the Honda Classic, Woods withdrew Sunday with spasms. Mickelson’s distance control with his irons was so bad he didn’t even make it to the weekend.
So here are my five “current” favorites, in order, for Augusta:
(Warning: If you have ever followed the stock market by computer, you know the Dow Jones changes every time you hit the refresh button during a trading day. Similarly, Tiger and/or Phil will play themselves right back into favored nation status with a win – or even an encouraging finish – at Doral this week or at Bay Hill in three.)
1. Jason Day: Not because he won the Match Play late last month in high style, although that gutty performance is a strong indicator. Hits it long and straight. Putts it well. Loves the golf course. T2 at 2011 Masters and third last year. Can you say “trending”?
2. Adam Scott: The defending champion will arrive at Magnolia Lane rested and fresh and confident. A Masters T8 in 2012 and a T2 there in 2011 are also impossible to ignore.
3. Rory McIlroy: No golf course ever “owes” a player anything. But if it did, Augusta National might have a small debt to pay for the humiliation McIlroy suffered there in 2011 when, as the 54-hole leader, he failed to break 80 on Sunday. The kid just has too much game to be ignored especially now that he has 2013 in his rearview mirror.
4. Zach Johnson: Quietly placed at No. 8 in the OWGR, the 2007 Masters champion will not “lose” the tournament if he is in position late Sunday.
5. Graham DeLaet: The Canadian just keeps getting better. Still, he is clearly a contrarian pick. He is a Masters rookie. In fact this will only be his third major, period. Masters rookies rarely succeed (Fuzzy Zoeller in 1979 the notable exception) because the learning curve is so daunting. Putting DeLaet on this list is admittedly an educated reach.